There has been much discussion at Vatican Headquarters about the issue of women deacons. It is always pointed out that such deacons are to be found in the early Church. But that doesn’t settle the matter because the issue is not about women who hold formal positions in the work but ordained powers, skirting on priestly duties at the altar. Would the existence of women deacons lead eventually to consecration or granting God’s absolution through Confession? Scripture does not mention any of this relating to women. Following three years of study, the papal commission was unable to decide. Interestingly, as a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter (by Jamie Manson) describes, Francis himself holds the issue to remain uncertain. Perhaps we can help?
My first reaction is that in those days women’s status in society was very different. Their typical function was to give birth and to care for children. At that time a married woman might usually be child bearing throughout her post-pubertal life. Her functions in society were necessarily personal and in the nature of service. Moreover, in the close background were the pagan religions who often favoured female gods. The ordained female, carrying the powers of the Church, was unthinkable. Indeed this attitude towards women still exists not only in other countries and religions but the relics are in our own.
But this of course does not settle the matter, it merely suggests that the absence of ordained females in the early Church is not a useful argument. We still have to answer whether the nature of the female is unsuited to ordination. Unquestionably in modern societies there has been considerable change in this regard – although it still has a way to go. But we have certainly reached a stage where refusing equal privileges to women looks merely quaint. Indeed the presence of women in ordained roles in other Christian denominations appears to have been advantageous.
But does the Church have the power to ordain women – either as deacons or priests? How can that be answered except through the mind of God? Bad news for someone who has been apparently absolved by a woman, or received the Eucharist at a Mass whose celebrant was female.
My own view is just my own view: I believe that women should be ordained as priests and deacons. I have no doubt that this would benefit the whole Catholic community, and, perhaps, put right what has now become an injustice. Were this to come about it would have the same validity as any other serious teaching – whether from Pope of Council. I realise that many readers would disagree, so this column gives us an opportunity to exchange the arguments.